Humans…

Surreal is just a word. If you look straight at reality it’s, uh, surreal. Think about it. What’s more surreal than any single day? What’s more surreal than a whole planet going on about it’s (bizarre) business and being hit by a microbe? To add super-surrealism to that, imagine the most affected species on that planet ARGUING about the reality of that microbe while, ultimately, six million people die? What’s more surreal than a species working daily toward its own destruction and then paying good symbolic wealth (in itself surreal) to watch films or read books depicting dystopian futures? What’s more surreal than a tiny, tiny, tiny bird flying all the way from the Yukon to suck nectar from my Scarlet Emperor Beans for a whole 3 minutes? What’s more surreal than any single day on this planet? It’s not surreal. It’s real. Like me, just now, typing “How many people have died of Covid?” and getting the data for the US as if there were NO OTHER COUNTRIES? And why did I do that? Because I confused the number of people who died during the Holocaust with the number who’ve died from Covid. If THAT isn’t surreal what is? Not surreal. Real. Absolutely totally real. OH and that we refer to THE Holocaust. Wow. I don’t think it’s even possible to count — or describe! — the number of historical holocausts. It’s just the “one” closest to us in time. Our penchant for naming things in order to dismiss them or pay knee-jerk respect to them is surreal. That’s surreal. A great poem that demonstrates the surreality of this naming fetish is The Naming of the Parts by Henry Reed.

On top of this reality we create philosophical structures to help us understand it, and they are completely bizarre, then, to add a skosh of total absurdity to THAT we have wars over them. Or are they just what our species would be expected to do by its nature?

Surreal isn’t all bad. I have a 90 year old pen pal in Seattle. How did I get this penpal? Well, the woman who ran the museum in Del Norte’s husband’s cousin, who became my penpal, wanted my notecards, and preoccupied with the museum and her husband’s extremely surreal death (not surreal, real), she didn’t send them to him. He found my business card and called me. Where did that lead? Well, among other things, the gift of a thermal cup from Starbucks at the Beijing Airport. Not surreal; real. An old man, on the trip of his dreams, through China with his daughter, bought souvenirs that he would have no use for, but he has a friend in the remote valley where he grew up who might value them. Real.

My dogs? “So, Martha, what do you want to do with your life?”

“Thanks for asking Walter (Cronkite). I want to walk dogs.” Everything else has been ancillary, apparently.

Surrealism in art is another thing. “I’m going to paint weird shit to show the world as it really is,” or something. I don’t know, but other than Dada which set out (partly) to depict the horrific reality of WW I to counter the (surreal) propaganda, I don’t think surrealism is nearly as “surreal” as daily life. When my friend, looking at my paintings, made the comment, “What’s your obsession with reality?” I thought, “You’re blind.”

Nowadays when someone says, “That’s surreal,” I just shrug. Clearly they were just born. Our ability to perceive reality? Never expressed more clearly than by Towelee in this episode of South Park

Featured photo: me with a torn ACL back in 1992. The evening after this photo was taken, the Boys on Bikes took me to see Jurassic Park and to dinner at McDonalds. They’d scraped together all their money so I didn’t have to pay because they respected my injury and loved me. Surreal? Or the fact that the hospital refused to repair my ACL with surgery because I had no health insurance?

Life’s Labyrinthine Chaos Course — Revisiting School in Verona

 

“No one knows what’s going to happen when they make a choice. And Goldilocks? Look what happened to her? BEARS.”

“Whoa.”

“Exactly. Sure, we remember the oatmeal and beds, but it was really BEARS. Whether that bed fit or not, she had to run away. Choices are a lot like that. Looks good and a few winks in, BEARS. Goethe was right.”

“As far as you’re concerned, Goethe was ALWAYS right. It’s so boringly predictable.”

“I know, I know, a little hero worship there, but you know what? I wouldn’t ever have READ Goethe if I hadn’t made a BAD choice. I probably would never have gone to Europe — and certainly not Zürich — would never have seen the little church at Gfenn that changed my life and awakened me. Good choices, bad choices, no one knows. A comfy bed is as likely to lead to BEARS and, well, what I did, might lead to LIFE.”

“So what did Goethe say?”

“It was a theme with him, the labyrinth we live in. The first time I encountered it in his work, though, was in the prologue to Faust. He wrote ‘Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf‘.”

“And that means…?”

“Life is a labyrinth of error. Life’s labyrinthine course of error. Something like that. But a labyrinth is a labyrinth because one moment we’re making a choice — this way or that — and in the next we’re reaping the consequences of that choice. We might be lost, we might not be lost, we might be lost and not know it, we might be fine and fear we’re lost. Maybe we enter the labyrinth looking for our friend or lover who’s gone on ahead. Maybe it’s a game. Maybe we just want out. But at some point, we enter that labyrinth. Choice? Biological inevitability? I don’t know that. I could CHOOSE to believe one or the other, but…”

“The labyrinth.”

“At that point, our parents chose. There we are, entering the labyrinth.”

“What’s that picture up there?”

“It’s Giardino Giusti in Verona. I took that picture. Goethe wrote about it in Italian Journey and I made the choice to go to Verona to study Italian because of Goethe. I figure if you find a competent guide through the labyrinth, you should take advantage of it.”

“You were following a dead guy?”

“Yes and no. I mean some 200 years have passed since then and I’m not Goethe, but I needed to choose a destination (turn a corner in the labyrinth) so I decided to go where he had gone. There are beautiful, old cypress trees in this garden (you can see one on the far right facing in the photo) and Goethe cut some of the branches to carry back to his apartment. He didn’t know that cypress branches were a symbol of mourning and was surprised that the people he met on his way expressed condolences. Lots of confusion in the labyrinth, that’s for sure. You just have to be fearless and humble at all times. Actually, something happened to me there that proved that.”

“What?”

“My schoolmates didn’t like me much. My Italian sounded good but wasn’t. It’s badly mixed with Spanish which I’ve spoken poorly most of my life. One of the schoolmates — an Austrian woman — actually began ‘shunning’ me because, I guess, she thought my Italian was contagious. It was OK with me. I had other things to do besides hang out with a random bunch of non-Italian speaking Europeans and Japanese. I did make a friend; a woman from Manchester with whom I really enjoyed hanging out, but generally, I was ostracized. Partly, too, I think because of the US invasion of Iraq for which I was personally responsible. Ha ha.”

“And then?”

“So the Austrian girl/woman knew I loved Goethe but she didn’t believe I had read Goethe. She — as do many Europeans — believed Americans are endemically fake. So we were on a school field-trip at the Giardino Giusti and walking through this labyrinth which was more difficult than it looked. I said, ‘Des Lebens labyrinthisch irren Lauf.’ She said, ‘What’s that?’ I said, ‘It’s a line from the prologue to Faust.’ ‘Well it’s wrong,’ she said. ‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘I think I’d know,’ she replied.”

“What happened then?”

“A couple days later she found me and apologized. We got to be friends after that. A characteristic of the labyrinth is that you don’t know what you’re looking at until you LOOK at it.”

“Like Goldilocks?”

“Maybe. I was always on the bears’ side in that story. After all, Goldilocks was trespassing.”

——————

Here’s a photo I wanted to share with yesterday’s prompt, but I couldn’t find it. It deals with surrealism. It’s me in Zürich in 2005 standing beside the Cafe Voltaire — the birthplace of DADA (father of surrealism). I’m pointing here at the Navel of the World.

Me pointing at the navel of the world

Birthplace of Dada, Cafe Voltaire, Zürich

 

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